GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The wait is over.
It’s officially football season here in Gainesville as Florida holds its preseason media day Wednesday before opening fall camp a day later.
Head coach Jim McElwain, coordinators Doug Nussmeier and Randy Shannon and dozens of Gators players will face the full gamut of questions while looking ahead to a much-anticipated preseason.
Here’s a quick preview of what McElwain and company can expect to be asked:
QBs, QBs, QBs …
The story of camp is, of course, Florida quarterback competition. That’s not a fresh storyline for the Gators in 2017, but it’s as intriguing as ever.
Notre Dame graduate transfer Malik Zaire and redshirt freshman Feleipe Franks are the top contenders, 2016 starter Luke Del Rio is somewhere on the depth chart depending on the health of his two healing shoulders and the quarterback discussion will dominate Wednesday.
McElwain probably won’t say anything revealing, and this back and forth will continue all preseason until he’s ready to publicly anoint a starter.
Speaking of recurring storylines …
For the second August in a row, questions will swirl about star wide receiver Antonio Callaway’s status for the season opener.
Callaway was cited for possession of marijuana during a May 13 traffic stop while riding with an older man with a lengthy rap sheet. The junior pled no contest to possession of paraphernalia and was fined $301 last month, but his status for the season opener against Michigan remains uncertain.
McElwain declined to say anything definitive on the matter during SEC Media Days last month, reiterating that Callaway was doing what was asked of him behind the scenes.
The questions will come again Wednesday and throughout this month until a decision is announced.
No Marcell Harris, more questions in the secondary
McElwain hasn’t met with reporters since the team announced that senior safety Marcell Harris will miss the season with a torn right Achilles tendon.
The main question on the topic Wednesday will be whether sophomore Chauncey Gardner Jr. officially settles in at safety now to help fill the void. Gardner played safety down the stretch last season before working at cornerback in spring practice.
Additionally, McElwain will be asked to talk more about his expectations for the Gators’ class of six freshmen defensive backs and how they might fit in as immediate contributors.
What’s the deal with James Robinson?
The complicated case of 4-star Lakeland wide receiver James Robinson continues as he has yet to be announced as having enrolled at Florida.
McElwain said during SEC Media Days that the matter remained with the NCAA Eligibility Center and was out of his hands. He may say the same thing Wednesday, or perhaps he’ll have some more insight into whether the Gators’ top incoming receiver is indeed coming at all.
Is this the year?
And, of course, McElwain (and Nussmeier and the players, etc.) will be pelted with question after question about whether this is the year the Gators finally show some improvement offensively.
McElwain has lauded the offensive line, the playmakers are in place at receiver, running back and tight end and the quarterback position is as intriguing and deep as it’s been during his tenure.
So just how confident is he that an offensive breakout is coming this fall? That question will be asked every which way.
As for the players, here are the guys sure to share the spotlight at media day:
QB Malik Zaire
Zaire has not had an opportunity to speak with reporters in Gainesville since arriving on campus in June. This will be his formal unveiling as he takes center stage at media day. Zaire is said to have a magnetic personality and should give Gators fans plenty to discuss by the time the day is over.
QB Feleipe Franks
Likewise, this is Franks’ first opportunity to speak with reporters since Zaire’s addition. Franks was atop the depth chart after a spring competition with fellow redshirt freshman Kyle Trask. Now he has to win the job again. How is he handling the addition of Zaire? It will be interesting to hear his perspective on the matter.
LB David Reese
Reese has never been made available to reporters in Gainesville as McElwain keeps freshmen off limits to interviews.
Reese emerged as a key cog as a true freshman last fall and now anchors a very young group of linebackers. He missed spring practice recovering from wrist surgery and will get to offer his perspective on the Gators’ retooled defense and his magnified role as a leader in the middle.
DE Jabari Zuniga
Zuniga has been billed as a breakout candidate by his teammates after emerging with a team-leading 5 sacks in 2016.
His fellow Gators believe he’s primed for a bigger season in 2017 and he’ll be a major key as the defense looks to prove it can overcome the offseason talent exodus to the NFL.
Zuniga avoided interviews during spring practice, but he should be available Wednesday.
DE CeCe Jefferson
Jefferson has the potential to be one of the absolute stars of the 2017 Florida defense as a junior. It’s still uncommitted whether he’ll work inside or outside on the defensive line, and he’ll be asked for his thoughts on that Wednesday along with questions about taking over as a leader this fall.
WR Tyrie Cleveland
Another breakout candidate, Cleveland’s much-anticipated freshman season was undermined by a hamstring injury and erratic quarterback play. What are his expectations and goals for 2017 and just how productive does he think he and Callaway can be as a duo on the outside?
WR Antonio Callaway
Well, if he’s there. It’s uncertain if Callaway will be at media day, but obviously there will be plenty of interest in his thoughts if he does make an appearance.